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Tue, Nov 27, 2001 - Page 19 News List

Setting Afghanistan ringing

A New Jersey adventurer who claims that he has already had a lot of experience in the world's hot spots now wants to help the Northern Alliance reconstruct Afghanistan

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , HACKETTSTOWN, NEW JERSEY

Gary Breshinsky helped persuade the Taliban in the late 1990s to allow the building of a new phone system in Afghanistan. The Afghan Wireless Communication Co network emerged largely unscathed from recent bombing and it is an important link to the rest of the world. Breshinsky, above, at his home in Hackettstown, New Jersey.

PHOTO: NY TIMES

From the living room of his home in a gated community here, Gary Breshinsky is plotting his return to Afghanistan.

Spread on the floor are political and physical maps he acquired from the Shah M. Book Co in Kabul. Entered into speed-dial on his telephone are the phone numbers of Northern Alliance representatives. Hanging in the closet is traditional Afghan garb ready to be donned at a moment's notice.

"My aspiration is to be part of Afghanistan's reconstruction," said Breshinsky, a tall, burly 53-year-old with a nasal inflection that reveals his Long Island upbringing. "I would like to put my skills to use."

Defining those skills more precisely, Breshinsky lets loose a torrent of autobiographical detail, describing an odyssey that took him from the suburbs of New York to hot spots in the Middle East, Africa and Central Asia before returning to the US, with his wife, who is Swedish, and their triplet daughters, to settle down in New Jersey.

At the top of Breshinsky's resume-cum-life story is his experience setting up a telecommunications network in Afghanistan in the late 1990s. Together with investors from the US, Britain and Sweden, Breshinsky struck a deal with the Taliban to establish the Afghan Wireless Communication Co, whose network has emerged largely unscathed from bombing raids in recent weeks.

Breshinsky says he left the venture after the US imposed trade sanctions against Afghanistan in 1999, but Afghan Wireless, with about 9,000 customers, remains afloat. That not may sound like a lot, but in a country with only about 40,000 telephone lines for a population of 26 million, it is one of Afghanistan's most important links with the rest of the world.

Now, with the nation's power structure in flux, Breshinsky is hoping to return as an executive at the company or in another capacity to help manage Afghanistan's telecommunications system.

Breshinsky's ambition of returning to Afghanistan could be viewed as a reflection of a midlife crisis or a yearning to make money in a far-flung foreign venture. But the explanation of his interest in Afghanistan is derived from something more fantastical, if not entirely absurd.

According to Breshinsky's own account, he first became interested in Afghanistan when he went there as "a concerned private citizen" in the early 1980s to fight with mujahidin against the Soviet army. His involvement there came after forays to other flash points in the 1970s.

After graduating from Fairleigh Dickinson University in New Jersey with a degree in psychology, Breshinsky said, he moved to Europe, where, after a spate of hijackings and bombings, he developed an interest in the psychological study of kidnappers and terrorists.

It is at this stage that Breshinsky's story becomes murky. Through contacts at the CIA, he said, he began advising European officials on how to negotiate with terrorists.

With the CIA's support, Breshinsky says, he formed an organization whose mandate was to work against terrorists and their supporters through blackmail, depletion of funds through offshore banking operations and, at times, assassination.

Breshinsky says he coordinated the group from a small base in Cyprus. The work was grueling, however, and it took its toll, he says.

After suffering an injury in an operation, he says he felt burned out, so he took a break and moved to southern Spain, where he lived a playboy's existence, complete with a red Maserati and several beautiful girlfriends.

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